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Life is still a 'Cabaret' as celebrated film turns 40

1:33 PM, Feb 16, 2013   |    comments
Liza Minnelli stars as Sally Bowles in 'Cabaret.' (Photo: Warner Bros. Home Video)
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USA TODAY - Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Joel Grey and Marisa Berenson recenty gathered at Manhattan's Ziegfeld Theatre for a screening of their restored classic, Cabaret. It was a way to say "Willkommen" or "Welcome" to a new generation of fans to the delights of the groundbreaking musical. They had walked the red carpet into the same theater four decades earlier when the winner of eight Academy Awards premiered the first time.

Cabaret (1972, Warner Bros., PG, $15; Blu-ray, $28) makes its high-definition debut this week after a meticulous process to repair damage to the film that kept it from screening for a decade. The Bob Fosse-directed film missed its actual 40th anniversary by a year, but the pristine results of the restoration return the film to all of its decadent glory.

The story is set in 1931 Berlin during the last days of the German Weimar Republic as the Nazi Party is just beginning to take root. American singer Sally Bowles (Minnelli) is the star performer at the Kit Kat Klub and she draws the shy, newly arrived English professor Brian Roberts (York) into her hedonistic lifestyle. Though he initially resists her attempts at seduction, they eventually become lovers after he admits his three previous attempts at intimacy with women ended in failure.

Also in their circle is Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem), a wealthy playboy who is attracted to them both, and Natalie Landauer (Marisa Berenson), a German Jewish department store heiress, who is one of Brian's students. Though he doesn't take part in the main storyline, Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey) fiendishly controls the action at the Kit Kat Klub and acts as narrator.

Throughout, the violent rise of the Nazi Party is an ominous undercurrent that is seen in flashes of events outside the club, reflected in the changing makeup of the audience inside the club, and is manifested in the dampening of the main characters' spirits.

The movie is loosely based on the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb. The musical was adapted from the 1939 Christopher Isherwood novel Goodbye to Berlin and the 1951 play I Am a Camera, which was also adapted from the book. When the film came out in 1972, it blew away the sugary cliches of movie musicals with its candid depiction of sex, anti-Semitism, homosexuality, Nazism and abortion.

Fosse also decided to confine almost all of the musical numbers to scenes at the Kit Kat Klub (as opposed to having actors randomly bursting into song in everyday life as they would in traditional musicals), giving the story a more realistic feel. All the songs were sung by either Sally or the MC. The only exception was the chilling Nazi-led anthem Tomorrow Belongs to Me.

Cabaret was a critical and commercial hit, and although it didn't win the Academy Award for best picture - The Godfather did - Fosse won for director, Minnelli for actress and Grey for supporting actor. It also won for cinematography, film editing, original song score or adaptation score, art direction and sound. Over the years, it has continued to pile up accolades. It was added by the Library of Congress to the National Film Registry. It was also ranked No. 5 on the American Film Institute's Greatest Movie Musicals list (three musicals by Minnelli's mother, Judy Garland - The Wizard of Oz, A Star Is Born and Meet Me in St. Louis - are in the top 10).

The Blu-ray is presented in book format with 40 pages of photos and essays. The release also comes with plenty of bonus material, including featurettes titled "Cabaret: The Musical That Changed Musicals," "Cabaret: A Legend in the Making" and "The Recreation of an Era."

(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)

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